“The best laid schemes o’ mice and men/ Gang aft a-gley.” — Robert Burns
Every mother knows what this small but famous snippet of poetry means. It should read, “The best laid schemes o’ mice and moms.” No matter how hard you try, no matter how organized you get, no matter what amount of research precedes your project, what advance calls are placed, what efforts are made to pick the best day, the right clothing, pack the right food and prep the car, the fates chuckle.
For example, I have dragged both children around Disneyland as the temperature dropped from a scorching 90 to a chilling 50 degrees. The youngsters didn’t want to leave because they were having fun. I didn’t want to leave because we had spent the month’s grocery money to get in, but we were all freezing to death and the only alternative was to spend another $50 on Mickey Mouse sweatshirts.
Or there was the magical trip to the snow, or the visit to friends in Los Angeles. On the mountain, the snow was hard, the winds were merciless, the hills were too steep, the cabin was smelly, and the trip home lasted forever. On the July L.A. trip, my car overheated three times, we all got carsick, and the trip home lasted forever.
I much prefer to forget my own tribulations and howl over, I mean gain strength from, someone else’s. My favorite is the story of a friend who had just read about the need to set aside alone time with each child. The article urged moms to focus on the child’s interests and avoid the easy out of movies and theme parks. Her son was just learning to ride his bike. She envisioned a cool day in the mountains, with a picnic lunch and a bike ride on what she recalled as a long, flat hiking trail. What could be better? Lunch and bicycles were packed and off they went.
To prevent the child’s chronic carsickness, she administered Dramamine. They were about 15 minutes into the trip, on the fourth verse of “She’ll be Comin’ ‘Round the Mountain,” when Mom realized she was singing alone. The son was out cold. As they rolled up to the gate of the park, the ranger sternly informed them that they wouldn’t want to unpack any food, as the park was infested with “meat-eating bees” (actually predatory wasps). She and her groggy child ate their lunch inside the car.
Determined that some recreation should come of this day, Mom pulled out the bikes and insisted on a short ride. The long, flat road was actually a long, steep road, and she had to throw herself in front of her child’s bike as he headed, out of control, down the hill.
The denouement of the day came as she left her child by the car to quickly recover their tangled bikes. In the moments before she could return, he had been painfully stung by the wasps. Within an hour after arriving, a still-groggy, skinned-up, swollen child was being driven directly to the 3 p.m. showing of “Free Willy,” with extra popcorn.
This, I believe, is where that extraordinary woman-thing kicks in — that splendid ability to selectively forget the pain, starting with childbirth. You have got to be able to look back on all this and laugh. If not, at least tell it to another mom. She will certainly thank you for it.
Jean Gillette is a freelance writer who no longer believes that wishing will make it so. Contact her at [email protected]